Every Pop Culture Reference in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

An exhaustive guide to Marvel's history of referencing other films, TV shows, games and more

MCU Pop Culture References
Illustration by Steven Fiche

    This article is part of Consequence‘s Marvel Pop Culture Week, examining all the ways in which the MCU invokes our world’s pop culture and creates its own. Here, we dig into just how often Marvel actually does reference other pop culture tropes. (It happens a lot.)

    To understand something, first you have to know its full scope. Which is why we did… this. The below represents an attempt to capture all the times, and all the different ways, Marvel films and TV shows have mentioned pre-existing pop culture while telling stories of super-powered heroics.

    How we created this list: Consequence intern Aurora Amidon led the way on compiling the references included, utilizing IMDB’s Connections listings for each film and other guides to the MCU. We then curated and edited this list to check that we were identifying the earliest possible references.


    For what ended up becoming the most significant type of data involved in this list was dates, which became a fascinating lens into just what kind of pop culture references do and don’t make sense within the MCU. The primary example of this, we discovered, was how the Batman and Superman references made in 2019’s Eternals don’t actually break continuity, and even make a certain amount of sense given when those characters were created.

    Another example: In Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) says, “Ninja Turtle, you better stop poking me!” to one of Korath’s (Djimon Hounsou) henchmen. Dates matter here, because the reference being made here could be one of a few different options: the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or the many, many screen versions that have been adapted from creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s originally self-published black-and-white comics.

    In this case, the key is the fact that Peter Quill was abducted from the planet Earth in 1988, two years prior to the release of the blockbuster New Line film… but just after the premiere of the popular kids’ animated series, which debuted December 28, 1987 as a five-part miniseries, before going into proper syndication in October 1988. Actually, that is cutting it a little close, but it’s safer to assume that prior to his abduction eight-year-old Peter happened to catch the hot new cartoon of the year, as opposed to what was then still a relatively underground comic book.


    In addition to exploring questions like this, one other fascinating element that came out of making the list was discovering what MCU properties leaned the hardest on referencing external pop culture. As you can see in the chart below (click to expand)

    mcu pop culture 58770582 Every Pop Culture Reference in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

    Created for Consequence by Kinetic Energy Entertainment

    The clear winner was Captain Marvel, and as you’ll see in the list, there’s one scene that’s the reason for it topping the charts: When Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) returns to planet Earth after years in space, she does so by crashing into a period-accurate Blockbuster Video, packed with VHS tapes of films that would conceivably have been available for rent in 1995.


    With Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness only just now out in theaters, we had limited time and ability to parse it fully, and so we’ll save its potential inclusion for future updates. In addition, if you’re wondering, the following shows were not included in this list:

    Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    Agent Carter
    Jessica Jones
    Luke Cage
    Iron Fist
    The Punisher
    The Defenders
    Cloak and Dagger
    • The animated kids’ series

    The reason is simple: In trying to create a unified sense of the MCU, we chose to focus on the theatrically-released films plus the Disney+ series, as those are the projects overseen by MCU megamind Kevin Feige and thus confirmed as 100% canon. While many of the above shows have clear ties to core Marvel projects, many of them (looking at you, Runaways) have only a vague connection to Marvel continuity, and others (looking at you, Inhumans) we might have good reason to forget about entirely.


    Check out the full chronological list below, or visit it in spreadsheet form via this link. There’s sure to be nitpicking that ensues with a project like this — if we missed anything, we’re sure to hear about it on social media — but this represents at least an attempt to tackle the madness (in this one very specific cinematic universe).

    Iron Man (2008)

    Reference: Apocalypse Now (1979, Film)
    Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) says, “I love the smell of burning metal in the morning!”

    Reference: Forrest Gump (1994, Film)
    Tony Stark calls one of the soldiers riding in the Humvee “Forrest.”

    Reference: Mad Money With Jim Cramer (2005-present, TV News)
    The real Jim Cramer tells his viewers to sell their stock in Stark Industries.

    The Incredible Hulk (2008)


    Reference: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Film)
    In the first scene in the soda factory, one of the machine sounds is the same sound as the carbonite freezing unit in Cloud City.

    Reference: The Incredible Hulk (1977, Scripted TV)
    The theme from the TV series gets used as background music.

    Iron Man 2 (2010)

    Reference: Supernanny (2005, Reality TV)
    Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) tells Tony Stark, “If you try to escape, or play any sort of games with me, I will tase you and watch Supernanny while you drool into the carpet.”

    Thor (2010)


    Reference: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, Film)
    A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent describes Fandral (Josh Dallas) in his radio report about the arrival of the Warriors Three: “Base, we’ve got Xena, Jackie Chan, and Robin Hood.”

    Reference: Xena (1995, Scripted TV)
    See above. The “Xena” in this case is Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander).

    Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

    Reference: Peter Pan (1904, Fairy Tale)
    A soldier heckles Steve Rogers (Chris Evans): “Nice boots, Tinker Bell!”

    The Avengers (2012)


    Reference: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Film)
    Tony’s “Glow Stick of Destiny” line refers to the Green Sword of Destiny.

    Reference: Point Break (1991, Film)
    Tony Stark calls Thor (Chris Hemsworth) “Point Break.”

    Reference: Rock of Ages (2005, Theater)
    “What, Rock of Ages giving up so easily?”

    Reference: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1949, Song)
    Iron Man calls Loki “Reindeer Games” because of his horned crown.


    Reference: Snow White (1937, Film)
    After falling from the sky, Iron Man wakes up saying: “Please tell me nobody kissed me.”

    Reference: The Lord of the Rings (2001, Film)
    As Iron Man takes Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to a rooftop, he says “Better clench up, Legolas,” referring to the archer played by Orlando Bloom in the Tolkien adaptations. (Yes, this could also be a reference to the books.)

    Reference: The Wizard of Oz (1939, Film)
    Steve Rogers reacts to the mention of “flying monkeys” by exclaiming, “I understood that reference!”


    Iron Man 3 (2013)

    Reference: A Christmas Story (1983, Film)
    Tony Stark says to a kid reminiscent of Ralphie, “I loved you in A Christmas Story.”

    Reference: Dora the Explorer (2000, Kids TV)
    Tony wears a Dora watch.

    Reference: Super Friends (1973, Kids TV)
    Happy (Jon Favreau) refers to the Avengers as the “Super Friends.” (Another subtle reference to the DC universe!)

    Reference: Westworld (1973, Film)
    Tony Stark calls Eric Savin (James Badge Dale) “Westworld,” presumably due to his resemblance to Yul Brynner. (It’s unlikely that this was a reference to the HBO show, given that Iron Man 3 predates the series by three years.)

    Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)


    Reference: I Love Lucy (1951, Scripted TV)
    Reference: Rocky I, II, and III (1976, Film)
    Reference: Star Trek (1966, Scripted TV)
    Reference: Star Wars (1977, Film)
    On Steve Rogers’ original catch-up list.

    Reference: Trouble Man (1972, Album)
    On Steve Rogers’ catch-up list, after Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) recommends the soundtrack.

    Reference: Top Gun (1986, Film)
    When a helicopter flies by S.H.I.E.L.D HQ, a soldier says, “Negative, the pattern is full,” quoting that film.


    Reference: Pulp Fiction (1994, Film)
    There is a Pulp Fiction quote on Nick Fury’s tombstone.

    Reference: WarGames (1983, Film)
    “Shall we play a game?” Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) says.

    Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

    Reference: ALF (1986, Scripted TV)
    Peter Quill’s spaceship includes an Alf sticker.

    Reference: Cobra (1986, Film)
    Another quote: “You’re the disease.” / “I’m the cure.”

    Reference: Footloose (1984, Film)
    Quill tells Gamora (Zoe Saldana) all about the classic dance film starring Kevin Bacon.


    Reference: Slither (2006, Film)
    A meta-reference, but the alien slugs from James Gunn’s Slither are in the Collector’s collection.

    Reference: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 (cartoon series premiere), Kids TV)
    Quill calls one of Horath’s henchmen a “ninja turtle.”

    Reference: Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Lost Ark (1981, Film)
    Reference: The Maltese Falcon (1941, Film)
    Quill drops multiple references in this line: “This orb has a real shiny blue suitcase, Ark of the Covenant, Maltese Falcon sort of vibe.”

    Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)


    Reference: Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956, Theater)
    Tony Stark says his day has been “Eugene O’Neil” long.

    Reference: Pinnochio (1940, Film)
    Ultron sings and quotes “I’ve got strings” multiple times.

    Reference: The Man Who Would Be King (1975, Film)
    “The man who wouldn’t be King,” Stark says.

    Ant-Man (2015)


    Reference: In Like Flint (1967, Film)
    During a heist, Kurt (David Dastmalchian) says that Lang is “in like the Flint.”

    Reference: Sofia the First (2012, Kids TV)
    Cassie Lane (Abby Ryder Fortson) has a Sofia the First bucket.

    Reference: The Andy Griffith Show (1960, Scripted TV)
    “No, don’t whistle. No whistling. It’s not The Andy Griffith Show. No whistling,” says Scott (Paul Rudd).


    Reference: Titanic (1997, Film)
    While explaining how a safe doesn’t do well with cold, Scott (Rudd) asks Luis (Michael Peña) what the iceberg did to the actual Titanic. Luis responds, “Yeah man: It killed DiCaprio.”

    Reference: The Little Mermaid (1989, Film)
    Cassie has a stuffed Flounder toy.

    Reference: Thomas & Friends (1984, Kids TV)
    During the climax, Ant-Man and Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) shrink and battle in a Thomas the Tank Engine playset.

    Captain America: Civil War (2016)

    Reference: Raging Bull (1980, Film)
    Before turning into Giant Man, Ant Man quotes Raging Bull: “I’m the Boss.”

    Reference: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Film)
    Peter gets inspiration from the film’s AT-AT battle when attacking Giant Man.

    Reference: The Manchurian Candidate (1962, Film)
    Tony Stark refers to Bucky (Sebastian Stan) as the Manchurian Candidate, as he was also brainwashed.

    Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)


    Reference: Miami Vice (1983, Scripted TV)
    Tony Stark calls Peter “Crockett.”

    Reference: Mr. Mom (1983, Film)
    Vulture (Michael Keaton) asks Peter if he wants a bourbon or a scotch, something Keaton’s character in Mr. Mom also says.

    Reference: Sesame Street (1969, Kids TV)
    Spider-Man calls Vulture “Big Bird.”

    Reference: The Big Bang Theory (2007, Scripted TV)
    Peter wears a shirt that says “The physics is theoretical, but the fun is real,” in reference to the slogan of the game “Research Lab,” which Sheldon created in the episode “The Guitarist Amplification.”

    Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

    Reference: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983, Kids TV)
    Quill mentions taking the form of Skeletor with his god powers.


    Reference: Knight Rider (1982, Scripted TV)
    Ego takes the form of Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff), after Quill reveals that as a kid, he used to imagine that Hasselhoff was his real father.

    Reference: Pac-Man (1980, Video Game)
    During his battle with Ego, Quill turns into a Pac-Man.

    Reference: Starman (1984, Film)
    Meredith Quill says, “I can’t believe I fell in love with a starman.”

    Reference: The Smurfs (1981, Kids TV)
    Quill calls Nebula “Smurfette.”

    Thor: Ragnarok (2017)


    Reference: Mission: Impossible (1966, Scripted TV)
    Grandmaster roughly quotes the franchise’s iconic catchphrase: “The mission, if you choose to accept it.”

    Reference: Point Break (1991, Film)
    Thor’s password on the Quinjet is “Point Break,” a callback to Tony’s nickname.

    Black Panther (2018)

    Reference: Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Film)
    Ulysses Klaue mentions the famous bank robbers, immortalized in this film.

    Avengers: Infinity War (2018)


    Reference: Aliens (1986, Film)
    Onboard the Black Order’s ship as it leaves Earth, Peter comes up with a new battle plan inspired by another 1980s classic — the James Cameron sequel to Alien.

    Reference: Defender (1981, Video Game)
    Groot plays the video game on a handheld console.

    Reference: Flash Gordon (1980 (film), 1936 (serials))
    Stark uses this reference as a nickname for Peter Quill.

    Reference: Footloose (1984, Film)
    Quill, not having been to Earth since the 1980s, asks if Footloose is “still the greatest movie in history?” Responds Parker: “It never was.”


    Reference: McDonaldland (1963, Kids TV)
    Quill calls Thanos “Grimace.”

    Reference: SpongeBob SquarePants (1999, Kids TV)
    Stark calls one of Thanos’s minions “Squidward.”

    Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

    Reference: The Jeffersons (1975, Scripted TV)
    Scott references George Jefferson from that show.

    Reference: The Partridge Family (1970, Scripted TV)
    Scott sings the theme song on his home karaoke machine.

    Reference: Train to Busan (2016, Film)
    A poster is faintly visible.

    Captain Marvel (2019)

    Reference: 9½ Weeks (1986, Film)
    Reference: A Story About Love (1995, Film)
    Reference: Bad Girls (1992, Film)
    Reference: Braveheart (1995, Film)
    Reference: Bride of the Monster (1955, Film)
    Reference: Death Game (1977, Film)
    Reference: Father of the Bride (1991, Film)
    Reference: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986, Film)
    Reference: First Knight (1995, Film)
    Reference: Ghostbusters (1984, Film)
    Reference: Highlander II: The Quickening (1991, Film)
    Reference: Hook (1991, Film)
    Reference: In the Line of Fire (1993, Film)
    Reference: Jaws: The Revenge (1987, Film)
    Reference: JFK (1991, Film)
    Reference: Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986, Film)
    Reference: Junior (1994, Film)
    Reference: Just Cause (1995, Film)
    Reference: Kiss of Death (1995, Film)
    Reference: Kolya (1996, Film)
    Reference: Last Action Hero (1993, Film)
    Reference: Legends of the Fall (1994, Film)
    Reference: Léon: The Professional (1994, Film)
    Reference: Lethal Weapon 3 (1992, Film)
    Reference: Live and Let Die (1973, Film)
    Reference: Mac and Me (1988, Film)
    Reference: Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966, Film)
    Reference: Marked for Death (1990, Film)
    Reference: MASH (1970, Film)
    Reference: Maverick (1994, Film)
    Reference: Mommie Dearest (1981, Film)
    Reference: Mrs. Doubtfire (1993, Film)
    Reference: Natural Born Killers (1994, Film)
    Reference: North (1994, Film)
    Reference: On Deadly Ground (1994, Film)
    Reference: Philadelphia (1993, Film)
    Reference: Pink Flamingos (1972, Film)
    Reference: Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957, Film)
    Reference: Rain Man (1988, Film)
    Reference: Repossessed (1990, Film)
    Reference: Robot Monster (1953, Film)
    Reference: Sabrina (1995, Film)
    Reference: Samurai Cop (1991, Film)
    Reference: Showgirls (1995, Film)
    Reference: Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987, Film)
    Reference: Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Film)
    Reference: Singles (1992, Film)
    Reference: Speed (1994, Film)
    Reference: Striptease (1996, Film)
    Reference: Super Mario Bros. (1993, Film)
    Reference: Supergirl (1984, Film)
    Reference: The Brain from Planet Arous (1957, Film)
    Reference: The First Wives Club (1996, Film)
    Reference: The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987, Film)
    Reference: The Hudsucker Proxy (1994, Film)
    Reference: The Lonely Lady (1983, Film)
    Reference: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, Film)
    Reference: The Remains of the Day (1993, Film)
    Reference: The Right Stuff (1983, Film)
    Reference: The Swarm (1978, Film)
    Reference: Things (1989, Film)
    Reference: To Live and Die in L.A. (1985, Film)
    Reference: Troll (1986, Film)
    Reference: Troll 2 (1990, Film)
    Reference: Wam Bam Thank You Spaceman (1975, Film)
    Video boxes can be seen in a Blockbuster Video.


    Reference: True Lies (1994, Film)
    Standee can be seen in a Blockbuster Video.

    Reference: Babe (1995, Film)
    Poster can be seen in a Blockbuster Video.

    Reference: Happy Days (1974, Film)
    A “Fonzie” lunchbox can be seen.

    Reference: Space Invaders (1978, Video Game)
    A “Space Invaders” pinball machine is shown.

    Reference: Mallrats (1995, Film)
    Stan Lee reads the “Mallrats” script on a train.

    Reference: MacGyver (1985, TV Show)
    Fury says, “You should see what I can do with a paper clip,” a reference to the improvising P.I.

    Avengers: Endgame (2019)

    Reference: Back to the Future (1985, Film)
    Reference: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989, Film)
    Reference: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010, Film)
    Reference: Quantum Leap (1989, Scripted TV)
    Reference: Somewhere in Time (1980, Film)
    Reference: Star Trek (1966, Scripted TV)
    Reference: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986, Film)
    Reference: The Terminator (1984, Film)
    Reference: Time After Time (1979, Film)
    Reference: Timecop (1994, Film)
    Mentioned while the team discusses the possibilities of time travel.


    Reference: Die Hard (1988, Film)
    Mentioned when talking about time travel (as a film that does not include it).

    Reference: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Film)
    Rhodey (Don Cheadle) expects a temple to be booby-trapped like in “Raiders.”

    Reference: Ratchet & Clank (2002, Video Game)
    Tony calls Rocket “Ratchet.”

    Reference: The Big Lebowski (1998, Film)
    Stark calls Thor “Lebowski.”

    Reference: Thumbelina (1835, Fairy Tale)
    Tony calls Ant-Man “Thumbelina.”

    Reference: Yellow Submarine (1968, Film)
    Tony Stark calls Nebula a “Blue Meanie.”

    Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)


    Reference: The Bodyguard (1992, Film)
    The song “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston plays during the Tony Stark tribute video.

    Reference: Star Wars (1977, Film)
    Peter has a toy TIE Advanced fighter on his bedroom shelf.

    Reference: King Henry the Fourth, Part Two (1600, Theater)
    “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” Nick Fury quotes.

    Reference: Star Wars (1977, Film)
    “Stark said you wouldn’t get that because it’s not a Star Wars reference,” says Nick Fury about his Shakespeare reference.


    Reference: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993, Kids TV)
    Mr. Bell (J.B. Smooth) says, “They joined forces like the Power Rangers” while watching a battle.

    Reference: Voltron: Defender of the Universe (1984, Kids TV)
    Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) corrects him: “Voltron! You’re thinking of Voltron!”

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